Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Lillian Johnson stalked angrily through the toy department. She glared at the pathetic parents with a trolley full of toys and a child so ill-mannered and demanding he made the fat kid from Harry Potter seem endearing by comparison.

What is that NOISE? She turned around looking for the source of the disturbance. It turned out to be a toddler with phenomenal lung power straining to escape the restraints of his pushchair while screaming hysterically for a toy his parent had refused to buy.

She considered telling the mother to take the purple-faced horror out of the store, but she could just imagine the headlines on the local paper if she dared to do such a thing five shopping days before Christmas. She'd be branded Mrs Scrooge forever.

She reached the staff door beyond which her office opened off a quiet corridor, blissfully free of shoppers and their horrible offspring.

She had collapsed into her seat, sighing with pent up frustration before she noticed the tall man in a caretaker's brown dust coat tapping on the radiator.

“Can you stop that, please,” she asked. “I have a splitting headache.”

“Of course I can stop,” he answered in a Glaswegian accent. “Would you prefer me to get on with the vacuuming instead?”

“Good God, no. Surely you can go and do something useful elsewhere? I'd like a little peace right now.”

“Aye, I can go and mop the corridor. Or maybe I could come back in here quietly and put up some decorations. This is the only place in the whole store without even a wee bit of tinsel.”

“There's a reason for that,” Lillian replied with the last ounce of her patience. “I don't DO Christmas.”

“You are manager of the toy department and you don't do Christmas?”

“It's because I'm manager of the toy department that I don't do Christmas. Five minutes out there, watching greedy, spoilt brats blackmailing their parents would finish off anybody's Christmas spirit. On top of that I just had to fire two of Father Christmas's elves for sharing a roll up in the staff toilets. I'm about done with the whole thing. And why am I telling you all this? Who ARE you, anyway?”

“I'm the caretaker. Look, I've got all the keys to all the rooms and a little gizmo for bleeding the radiators. I've got a mop and bucket and three different brooms, too.”

“I REALLY don't want to know about your brooms. Who are you, anyway? You're not the usual man.”

“The usual man won an all expenses Christmas holiday in Florida. I stepped in. I'm your Caretaker, or if you like you can call me The Doctor.”

“I would rather not call you anything,” Lillian replied. “Why are you still here? Why am I still talking to you? It’s not as if I don't have work to do, and so do you.”

“I'm doing it,” replied the Caretaker, also known as The Doctor.

“Doing what?”

“My job. Today it is finding out when exactly you lost your Christmas Spirit and seeing if we can find it again.”

“What?” Lillian stared at the strange man who clearly wasn't here to mop floors, no matter how he happened to be dressed.

The Caretaker called The Doctor. Slowly a memory forced itself up from the vault she had buried it in for most of her adult life of practicality and reality.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about a Christmas during the war when she was very unhappy and made a wish - and a man calling himself the caretaker or The Doctor took the whole family into a sort of Narnia world and made everything come out right. Mum used to talk about it, too. She said that her dad followed a star and landed a Spitfire on the lawn.”

“Sounds about right to me, Lillian Johnson, formerly Lillian Peterson, daughter of Lily Peterson who was born Lily Arwell, daughter of Reg and Madge Arwell.”

Lillian looked at him through eyes that were daring to believe something without absolute proof.

Of course this man could be a lunatic who looked up other people's family trees, but that seemed even less likely than the fantastic story her grandmother used to amuse her with.

“You’re really him? The Doctor?”

“I’m him. I’ve changed a bit since your mum saw me, but it’s me, all right.”

“How can I believe such a thing?”

“Easy. The way you believed in Father Christmas, once.”

“Did I mention the elves with the roll ups?” Lillian reminded him. “It’s actually rather hard to believe in anything when you have a job like mine.”

“Trust me, Lillian,” The Doctor told her in a softer tone than before. “Trust the Doctor.”

“I stopped trusting anyone other than myself a long time ago,” Lillian said in a quiet and suddenly more vulnerable voice.

“But nobody ever told you to trust The Doctor before. Come on, Lillian, take a chance, just this once.”

He held out his hand. She reached out and took it. He led her gently out into the corridor and towards a blue box she had not seen before. Of course, she was not looking particularly closely at anything when she passed through the corridor before, but she was sure she ought to have noticed something so very out of place as a street police box.

Then again, when The Doctor opened the door and she stepped across the threshold, feeling a strange tingle as she did so, she realised that she had never really noticed ANYTHING before now.

“How utterly amazing,” she said. “Did my mother ever see this?”

“No. I kept the TARDIS in my room. There was enough wonder in the universe without it. Are you convinced, now? Do you believe I’m capable of showing you the meaning of Christmas?”

“I believe you’re amazing,” Lillian answered. “And so is this… whatever it is. But I’m not so sure about that.”

“Well, let me convince you.”

He showed her to a seat while he went to the console to set a co-ordinate in time and space.

“What do you intend?” Lillian asked. “Some sort of variation of the Ghost of Christmas Past, showing me how much fun it all used to be in the good old days? It won’t work, you know. I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m not stopping anyone else having Christmas. I just can’t be bothered with it for myself. ”

“But it WAS fun in the good old days, wasn’t it?” The Doctor said to her. “When you were a little girl….”

He came to the seat and sat beside her, taking her hand in his. He reached with his other hand and touched her forehead. She gasped as she saw the console room dissolving around her to be replaced by another room entirely.

It was the living room of the house she grew up in. It was Christmas morning. Lillian and her sister and brother were still in their nightclothes, sitting on the rug in front of a coal fire with a cast iron guard protecting them from falling embers. A Christmas tree was lit up with fairy lights and decorated with cheap, gaudy but fun baubles and Christmassy figures. The ceiling of the room was strung with paper chains that the three children had made last week by cutting crepe paper into strips and looping them together.

There were presents around the tree – not many by comparison to early twenty-first century present counts, but that didn’t make them any less enticing to the youngsters.

Dad sat in his favourite armchair smoking a pipe. Mum was handing out the presents – one for Lillian, one for Margie, one for Gregg. The youngest two ripped the paper off quickly. Lillian slowly opened the wrappings to reveal a very pretty baby doll complete with change of clothes, a bottle and blanket. She opened the box and took out the doll to cuddle while her second present was handed to her. It was revealed as a board game called Miss World. It had four little dolls in it which were moved around the board until one reached the throne and was crowned.

The third and last ‘big’ gift was clothes – a new dress for Lillian. She ran upstairs to put it on and came back to ‘feed’ and change the baby doll before settling down with the board game.

“I had forgotten all about ‘Miss World Game’,” Lillian whispered, still half in the dream and half back in the TARDIS. “I never really played it with Margie and Gregg. They were too young. I played it by myself. I made up stories about the four dolls. The only one with long hair was the dark skinned one. The others were blonde with short curly hair. The stories were about the other three being mean to her, until she wins the competition and then they had to be nice. It was the sort of story I used to read in the girls’ comics.”

“Stories with a moral to them,” The Doctor noted.

“We probably couldn’t SELL that game even if it was still made, now. Miss World is regarded as demeaning to women. We still sell plenty of baby dolls encouraging girls to be wives and mothers, though. The gender gap in the toy market is still there. But I DID love that game when I was little.”

“Only three presents,” The Doctor pointed out.

“My dad did his best. Three ‘big’ presents. We had stockings with little toys in them – whistles, yoyos, pens, that sort of thing. And a Satsuma, of course.”

“What would a Christmas stocking be without a Satsuma?”

She felt herself pulled into the dream again. It was Christmas dinner, turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas crackers to pull, paper hats to wear. Then back on the rug watching the Christmas afternoon film – it was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The young Lillian sang along with all the musical numbers in the family favourite.

“You know, even that’s spoilt these days. That film… it used to be on once a year at Christmas. It was special, magical, part of the festivities. Now, my grandchildren have it on DVD and can watch it when they like. It’s lost the magic. Nobody’s fault – just technology moving on. But it’s not the same, somehow.”

“Yes, I can see your point. You were all happy, though, weren’t you? Back then you had the Christmas spirit?”

“Yes,” Lillian admitted. “Oh, yes, they were wonderful Christmases in those days.”

“And later?”

Lillian thought about it for a while.

“When I was seventeen… I had started my first job as a sales girl in September. I was earning money – not a lot, but I still lived at home so I could save up. That Christmas, for the first time, I bought real presents for mum and dad. There were always little things – handmade trinkets or something cheap from Woolworths, just to wrap up and give to them. But this year I could buy real presents. I got mum a punch bowl set – you know, a big bowl with cups hanging around it – crystal glass, really nice. For dad, I got a leather bag for his camera and all the kit that went with it. He liked taking photographs, you see. I bought toys for the kids, too.

The image drifted in front of her eyes of that first Christmas when giving had been as pleasurable and meaningful as receiving or the teenage Lillian. She smiled as she remembered her mother and father thanking her for their gifts.

“I can’t even remember what they gave me,” she admitted. “I think there were some records and clothes, of course. And books. Anyway, it didn’t matter. I enjoyed being able to give them something.”

“So you still had the spirit of Christmas, then?” The Doctor asked her.

“Yes, I did. I had family all around, the home I had grown up in.”

“The happy home. Why did you leave it?”

“Because I got married,” Lillian answered as if it was obvious. “Andy Johnson… I met him at the store. He was a management trainee. Our first date ended badly. We had an argument. I’d been working at the store three years and only had one promotion. He comes in from university and gets a job above me. I gave him the whole feminist thing about the glass ceiling as well as the argument against taking people from university above workers with shop floor experience.”

“As a university graduate myself I won’t comment on the latter argument,” The Doctor said. “But the feminist position is valid.”

“He called me a week later and told me he agreed on both counts, and asked me out again as long as we didn’t talk about work. After that, it was inevitable that we would get married. The only problem was, we were in the middle of the recession of the early 1980s. I was laid off and Andy was only working four days so we had to put off getting a mortgage on a house and rent a little flat.”

“But how was your Christmas spirit?” The Doctor asked.

“I sometimes think that was the BEST Christmas of them all, in that little flat, on a tight budget. We got a small tree and some cheap lights and baubles. Pound shops were just becoming popular then. We could get lots of cheap and cheerful stuff. I remember buying one of those advent calendars with chocolate in. We took turns to get the chocolate every morning. We bought one ‘big’ present for each other and lots of little things from that pound shop. I remember one of my presents for Andy was a shoe cleaning kit. He got me things like plastic hair combs and a brush and mirror set, and cheap perfume….”

The memory floated into her vision again. That Christmas morning they sat on the rug in front of the gas fire in the flat, the window open for the sound of church bells from somewhere close by, and exchanged those small, cheap presents. Later Lillian presented her first effort at a Christmas dinner. The small turkey was cooked well enough, but her stuffing was a bit too dry and the sprouts were slightly burnt. The pudding was a tiny one and the white sauce was an instant packet, but they feasted like kings and afterwards cuddled up on the sofa watching the afternoon film.

“It was Willy Wonka again,” Lillian said with a little laugh. “I loved it just as much as I did when I was a kid. Andy was naughty. He kept making a rude joke about ‘willy’ and ‘wonka’. You know the joke, I’m sure. You might be an alien, but jokes like that must be universal.”

“They are,” The Doctor assured her.

“It was the best. Apart from anything else, we knew something…. I was pregnant… only a few weeks. But we knew that the NEXT Christmas would be totally different.”

The next vision came easily. They were still living in the flat, but now there was a baby girl to share the home and the Christmas. She was just at the age to sit in a baby bouncer and watch everything going on. The lights of the Christmas tree dazzled her eyes and made her laugh with joy. On Christmas morning she was totally overwhelmed by the number of gifts under the tree. Her mother and father sat her among them and took a photograph before showing her how to tear the paper off the toys.

“Annie had more presents that year than I ever got in my LIFE,” Lillian admitted with a misty look in her eyes. “I got most of the big toys through Kays Catalogue, you know, paying a bit each week, but we also went to the cheap shops and the market and got loads of brightly coloured plastic things – like one of those clowns made of plastic rings on a pole, and alphabet bricks, that sort of thing.”

“Educational and fun,” The Doctor observed. “So that was one of the good ones, too.”

“We had everything to hope for,” Lillian said. “Andy was back on full time and in line for a promotion, more money. We were looking at mortgage options. We knew we would have a new house by next year. And we did. It was lovely. Three bedrooms, two reception rooms, a nice kitchen and bathroom, car port, quite a bit of garden….”

The Doctor smiled distantly. He had often observed that one woman’s dream would be another’s nightmare. For Lillian the sterile suburbia that others wanted to escape from was the ideal.

“Yes, we had more money. And the year after next we had two children. Annie had her first tricycle while Andy junior got his first set of alphabet blocks. I still got loads of cheap presents from the pound shop. I just loved wrapping lots of toys just to see their excitement.”

“So you loved being a mum at Christmas?”

“Yes, I did. I enjoyed the hectic rush in the kitchen, making the best dinner, bringing it to a table that I had set with the nicest plates and glassware. I loved the quiet afternoon with full stomachs and nobody wanting to do the washing up. We were a happy family, then.”


“It started to go wrong when the children were in their teens. Andy… began drinking more than he ought to. We only used to have spirits in the house at Christmas, but suddenly whiskey was on the shopping list every week. He was drinking it every night. He said he needed it to wind down from the day’s work. He was middle management, by then, on the top floor, away from the shop itself. I don’t know what was wrong with his job. He never told me, but I know he hated it. He often complained about being trapped in the nine to five drudge. I used to lose my temper at him. After all, I was working just as hard at home. The arguments were awful. I felt as if we were drifting apart from each other. And the drinking got worse. That Christmas he started on the hard liquor about midday Christmas Eve, and he never stopped. He slept through most of the Day itself. I woke him for the dinner. He brought his whiskey to the table and hardly talked to any of us. I took the children out for the afternoon. We went to my mothers. They had a good time there with my brother’s two sons, but it wasn’t the Christmas we hoped for.”

There were tears threatening to fall from her eyes. The Doctor passed her a large, clean handkerchief.

“That wasn’t the worst of it,” she continued. “When we got home again in the evening… we found him on the floor… unconscious. He’d had a heart attack. That Christmas… the window, the decorations, reflecting the blue of ambulance lights… the hospital with tinsel and decorations in the reception, in all the rooms except for intensive care. The long night waiting, worrying…. In the middle of it all I remembered that I’d taken a pork joint out to defrost for boxing day dinner. It was a silly thing to think of at the time… I knew we weren’t going to be eating any sort of dinner that day.”

She paused and wiped her eyes.

“He died at two o’clock on Boxing Day. Everyone was very kind. They did their best to simplify all the formalities. Somehow I got through it and we went home. I made turkey sandwiches because it was there in the fridge. I don’t remember tasting it. The next few days… while other people were preparing for New Year parties I was arranging a funeral.”

She finished crying, blew her nose once and pushed the handkerchief into her pocket without thinking about where it came from. The Doctor didn’t complain about the theft.

“The next year, it was impossible not to think about it all. We went through the motions, putting up decorations and everything, cooking turkey. But every time I looked at the tree lights I could see those ambulance flashes. The children were wonderful. Annie was sixteen and very mature, my tower of strength. Andy was fourteen. He did all the food preparation while I rested. Annie cooked the turkey. They looked after me. They had put their money together and bought me a present – it was a crystal glass punchbowl almost identical to the one I bought my mum all those years ago. I looked at it and burst into tears. I don’t know why, really, but the sight of it just burst the damn and it all came out. After that… I did enjoy the day, with my children. But I still kept seeing those ambulance lights in my imagination.”

She sighed deeply.

“The children were growing up. Annie went off to university and only came home for holidays. Then two years later Andy went off, too. Christmas was like a reunion. I looked forward to them both being there. I made it special for them. They made it special for me. But… you know… sooner or later… coming home to mum wasn’t on their agendas. Annie got married and the first year she and her husband had a quiet Christmas together. The second year she invited me and Andy to her house. Andy got his own flat and one year HE did Christmas dinner. We sort of agreed to take turns, but once the children came along it was harder to get away on Christmas Day. They started coming around on Boxing Day. Then it was sometime before New Year. I stopped bothering to cook anything special for Christmas. I spent the day quietly.”

“But you didn’t have to. There were invitations….”

“Annie always asks me. But I tell her I’ve got my own arrangements. She has her own life. She doesn’t need me.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“No. Not really. But I still feel as if I’d be a spare wheel. I just… don’t do Christmas.”

“But Christmas is there, deep down… the good Christmases before that tragic year when it all went wrong. I don’t think you really HAVE lost the spirit. I think it could easily be rekindled.”

“How? Are you going to take me somewhere that will show me the true meaning of Christmas? Where would that be? Santa’s North Pole grotto, or… I don’t know… a stable in Bethlehem….”

“That one isn’t allowed. Time travellers could do a lot of damage there – lights in the sky scaring sheep, mis-directing travellers from afar….”

Lillian thought about that for a while then decided he couldn’t possibly be speaking from experience.

“What about your daughter’s house where the invitation stands for you every year?” The Doctor asked, getting back to the point.

Lillian smiled wryly.

“I can’t,” she said. “I just can’t bring myself to their door.”

“Well, it’s just as well you don’t have to bring yourself,” The Doctor told her. “We’re here.”


“Your daughter’s house. They’ve got a tree in the garden with solar lights. I do like that for a Christmas tradition. A nice garden tree. I’m not keen on those houses covered all over with lights. That’s just showy. But a tree is nice.”

“As long as it’s not a palm tree,” Lillian answered. “Google it if you don’t know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” The Doctor responded with a grin that matched hers. “Go on. Have a pleasant afternoon with the kids, and in the morning you can watch them open their presents. They’re going to love the toys you bought them.”

“How do you know….” She shook her head. “Never mind. I’ll take your word for it. You do realise it was a week before Christmas when we met.”

“You left a message saying that you’re under too much stress and you’re taking the week off. You’ve engaged two new elves and cleared your desk of outstanding paperwork. Nobody can complain when you’ve worked up to Christmas Eve every year since you took the job and been back at your desk on Boxing Day for the sales. You’re entitled to the break.”

“That’s true,” Lillian conceded.

“So go on, then.”

“Won’t you come in with me… for a Christmas drink… a mince pie….”

The Doctor was on the point of saying no. This Christmas reunion with family was important for her. He would be in the way.

But on the other hand, in case she needed just a little moral support….

“Why not?” he decided. He took off the Caretaker’s dust coat to reveal a smart looking outfit. As he placed his hands in the trouser pockets a suave flash of red silk jacket lining was exposed. He cut a surprisingly dashing figure. Lillian smiled as he let her take his arm. It was the first smile that was for the present and future, not for the past.

His work was done. He deserved a drink and a mince pie for his own Christmas Spirit.